Gentle Reader, a week ago today I was out at the Mix with The-Fella-I’m-Not-Dating*, and it was a typical evening for me since moving to town. I was to meet a friend for coffee; I knew for a fact that karaoke would transpire later on. I slapped on a look in twenty minutes, and was suddenly in a lavender fantasy with flowers at my throat. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, n’est-ce pas?
When we toddled toward the pub, I was awash in adulation. I’m developing quite a reputation – the Quentin Crisp of Tacoma; the Oscar Wilde of the Northwest – that sort of thing. People tend to be either complimentary or avoid me entirely, you understand. When we walked in, I noticed a small knot of twinks by the bar; they were having a good time, no doubt rolling their eyes at this old queen and calling for another round of shots. Perfectly typical, as I said – I carried on and worked the room. It wasn’t until I stepped outside for a brief cigarette between showtunes that one of those fit young men approached me.
“How do you do it?”
I glanced askance, not quite sure what he meant. “How do you do it? How do you walk the streets of Tacoma looking like that without being scared? I’ve seen you, you know” – he started getting a little teary – “it’s not like it was back in L.A. This is home, this will always be home, but I miss my red lipstick.” He was crying in earnest at this point, and I reached out to grip his arm in comfort; his friends glared and whisked him away.
I’ll admit, in the heat of the moment, I’m a little grateful that I didn’t have to answer in full. What I said before he was dragged away was that “Humor helps. When someone shouts ‘Faggot!’ at me, I clutch my pearls, look around all frightened, and exclaim ‘What!? Where?'” If I’d had the luxury of getting into a real answer, I know I would have trotted out a few pet phrases that longtime Gentle Readers will be familiar with – “Never apologize for who you are” and “Don’t let anyone erase your identity.” While fine in and of themselves, they don’t actually answer the poor boy’s question. So, my poor lost child – this is how I do it, honey.
First of all, one must know the rules before one knows how to break them. Gender’s performative and ridiculous and bullshit, you know, but you have to know how society views such things and the roles both established genders are bound by and then step outside that space and transgress. Unless you know what’s expected, you can’t do something surprising or new. And, uh, you don’t know which spaces are safe. It’s up to you how you present in broadly unsafe spaces, of course, but there are drawbacks and benefits to many approaches. Me? I avoid public bathrooms like the plague, but find city streets to be broadly safe – so long as I know where I’m going and in which part of town. I don’t mind walking a few blocks through a neighborhood that’s a little iffy to get to my destination, but I do hustle through as quickly as possible.
The most important thing, though – you have to let go of your fear, child. You can’t be ruled by it; it’ll destroy you. If the history of the QUILTBAG community teaches us anything, it teaches that being true to yourself trumps everything else. It trumps safety in public spaces, it trumps our ambitions and livelihoods – it trumps the important relationships in our lives – with our parents, spouses, or mates. Living a lie will kill you – that’s why the suicide rate is so high in the community. How do I do it, honey? I do it because I must – I have no option. I do it because lying to everyone around me is a terrible way to live. I do it because otherwise there is no I. That’s how I do it, child – and I hope that you find the strength to do it, too.
*More about the Fella later. After the Pride Month Bonanza and so on, which should end in mid-to-late-July. Stay tuned!